It happens every week. Friday morning, I wake up to the tune of my menu, running through my head: challah, gefilte fish, chicken soup, chicken, cholent, schnitzel, potato kugel, rice, dessert. (Feel free to insert whichever catchy-but-irritating tune you’d like.)
I call it my “March of the Menu”. It gets tweaked, depending on how much company we’re having, or how many of my children are home for Shabbat, but the basic list is more or less the same, and has been for years.
You would think, after 20 years of making Shabbat, that I’d be able to do my preparations in my sleep. (Actually, my Thursday night dreams tend to be of the “It’s time to light candles, 15 guests are coming for dinner, and I totally forgot to cook!” variety.) But no; the March of the Menu plays in my head, in all its relentless urgency, all the way up until sunset.
It starts off like a leisurely waltz. 9 AM: the kids are in school, the baby asleep, and all is quiet. Chicken – defrosting. Challah – yeast bubbling. Gefilte fish – water, carrot and onion put up to boil. Soup. Usually my 16-year-old son makes the chicken soup. (Yes, really.) But he’s going away for Shabbat, so, sigh… I take out the peeler, and – Oh. I lift my head. My son – who has no clean white Shabbat shirts.
Down goes the peeler. I throw in a load of shirts. Stop to check my email on my way back to the kitchen. (Baaad move, Gila.) A half hour later, I’m somehow still checking my email, when I hear a funny rattling sound. The fish pot. Focus!Challah, gefilte fish, soup, chicken – I head back to my cooking, my mantra marching through my head.
12 PM. Challah dough – rising. Gefilte fish – cooling. Chicken – baking. Cholent meat – defrosting. Kids – home.
During the week, the kids run straight from the front door to my home office. But on Fridays, they know where to find me.
“Look at this project I made!”
“Jake gave out lollipops for the Shabbat treat!”
“My teacher said you need to read this right away!”
Now, good mothers stop whatever they’re doing to look at their children’s school projects, as soon as they come home. Good mothers never let their kids feel they’re playing second fiddle to a piece of chicken.
Chicken, cholent, schnitzel, potato kugel…
“Can’t wait to see your projects, Aharon! After mommy lights candles, okay, sweetie?”
Maybe one day I’ll be a good mother.
2 PM. The tempo of the March quickens. Cholent, schnitzel, potato kugel, rice – Wait! The shirts! Forgot to put them in the dryer!
“Mom, you’re doing laundry? Can you wash my black skirt?”
White shirts, dryer. Colours, washing machine. Time to braid the challahs. And – what’s that burning smell?
4 PM. “If these toys aren’t picked up off this floor, we won’t have clean floors for Shabbat!”
My husband threatens the same thing every Friday afternoon. As if my younger kids actually care whether our floors are mopped. Things only start moving when my teenage daughter gets involved.
“This place is a mess! Why am I the only one who cares about cleaning up around here?”
The clean-up effort is my husband’s domain. I shout my encouragement from the kitchen (“Come on, guys, Shabbat is in two hours!”) but aside from throwing out a helpful threat or two (“Tova, if you don’t put away your markers, they’re going in the garbage!”) I leave him to man the effort, as my menu drums ominously. Schnitzel! Brownies! Open a can of tuna! And pickles! And maybe some corn?
The March keeps on going even as I shower. Challah, gefilte fish, soup… Did I leave anything out? Finally ready, I race back into the kitchen to do my final check: Oven, turned off. Hot plate, on. Food, bubbling. Children, scrubbed and dressed (er…most of them).
I approach the candles, pause for a moment to take a breath, and strike the match. Slowly, I light them – one candle for each member of my family. And now, a new chant runs through my head: Meir, Yitzchak, Moshe, Tzvi, Shuli… I mentally name each person as I light. Thank You, God, for my wonderful husband. Thank You for my precious children. Thank You for giving us another great week, and thank You for helping me yet again – even though I sometimes take on too many things, and often leave myself too little time to do it – to bring in another Shabbat.
I greet each of my children with a “Shabbat Shalom”, and then walk over to the couch, for my favorite moment of the week.
It goes like this: Sit down. Lean back. Ahhhhh.
There is nothing quite like sinking into cushiony heaven after an entire day on your feet. That “Ah Moment”, to me, epitomizes what Shabbat is all about. Our Sages teach us that experiencing Shabbat gives us a taste of the World to Come – the world of tranquility, of spiritual reward. They also teach, “Whoever toils on Erev Shabbat will have what to eat on Shabbat.” While I, and countless Jews around the world, experience this quite literally each week, their teaching allegorically refers to our lifetime work, and the fruits of our efforts, great and small, here in this world.
When I feel that sense of utter peace and relaxation, it is not just a result of a long day of preparations, but of a long week of work, appointments, shopping, cooking, bedtimes, and on and on. Our work is never-ending; come Shabbat, I may not have completed all of my projects, but for now, at this moment – it has all stopped. There’s nothing for me to do, nothing more that I can do, and when I call my son over to look at his preschool projects, or offer to read a story to my daughter, it is with a blessedly clear head, a focused mind.
I know the running to-do lists will return after Shabbat. But for now, I enjoy the gift of being completely and luxuriously in the present.
Gila Arnold is a widely published author and journalist whose articles, essays, and fiction works have run in multiple international magazines. She is a freelance copywriter who specializes in creating marketing materials for nonprofit organizations. Gila lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel with her husband and lively crew, and loves hosting guests for Shabbat!